School & District Management

New Research Consortium Targets D.C. Schools

By Sarah D. Sparks — September 24, 2013 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Schools in the nation’s capital end up the guinea pigs for many new education programs and policies, but now they will get a stronger say in research to figure out which of those experiments really work.

The Education Consortium for Research and Evaluation, or EdCORE, is bringing together a set of research organizations with a presence in Washington to partner with district and charter schools, policymakers, and community groups to study how the District of Columbia’s often-changing education programs affect its students and teachers.

“What we’re aiming for is a Chicago-style consortium with the added benefit of a set of independent programs focused on improving outcomes in the city,” said Heather Harding, the executive director of the consortium, housed at George Washington University.

Chicago has had such a research consortium since 1990, and similar research enterprises have emerged in other cities, including Baltimore, Houston, and New York City.

The Washington partnership involves researchers from several institutions, including the American Institutes for Research, the RAND Corp., Mathematica Policy Research, Policy Studies Associates, Quill Research Associates, and the Community College of the District of Columbia.

Washington has long been home to top research organizations, and its schools are among the nation’s most frequently studied for everything from new charter models to teacher evaluations to curricula.

Teaming Up to Study Urban Schools

Alliances between researchers and education practitioners are becoming increasingly common in urban districts nationwide.

University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (1990)
Partners: University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, Chicago public schools, Chicago’s Urban League and Community Trust
Focus: Longitudinal study of schools with national applications

Baltimore Education Research Consortium (2006)
Partners: Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University, and the Baltimore public schools, community nonprofit groups
Focus: Study and address the city’s high dropout rate

Newark Schools Research Collaborative (2008)
Partners: Newark, N.J., school district, Rutgers University-Newark
Focus: Urban school improvement

Research Alliance for New York City Schools (2008)
Partners: New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York City public schools
Focus: Help the district translate research findings into instructional practice

Houston Education Research Collaborative (2009)
Partners: Houston school district, Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, University of Texas at Austin, Texas a&m University, and the University of Houston
Focus: Closing socioeconomic gaps in educational achievement and attainment

Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium (2009)
Partners: Metropolitan-Kansas City school districts, Kansas State University, the University of Missouri in Columbia, the University of Missouri–Kansas City, and the University of Kansas in Lawrence
Focus: Student achievement and school improvement

Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium (2009)
Partners: Virginia Commonwealth University’s education college, eight Richmond, Va.-area school districts
Focus: Research, evaluation, and public-service projects

San Diego Education Research Alliance (2010)
Partners: San Diego school district, University of California, San Diego, economics department
Focus: Evaluate school and district policies

Los Angeles Education Research Institute (2011)
Partners: University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles public schools
Focus: Share student-achievement data and develop best-practices research

Source: Education Week

In 2007, the Public Education Reform Amendment Act dramatically changed how Washington schools operate. It gave control of the city school district to the mayor—instead of an elected school board—and established a separate state education agency. It created the mayorally appointed post of schools chancellor (filled first by Michelle A. Rhee, now the founder of the advocacy group StudentsFirst).

The law also required a comprehensive five-year evaluation of both the city’s district and charter schools, but a plan for the evaluation was not developed until 2011.

Political Tap Dance

EdCORE is still in the early stages of development: It does not yet have a website and is still drawing up its research agenda, Ms. Harding said. It expects to launch formally by the end of the year.

So far, EdCORE is more a confederation of research groups than a centralized organization such as those established in some other cities.

EdCORE researchers are building bridges across choppy political waters. Many of the policy changes to be studied—such as new teacher-evaluation system and school clsures—remain controversial. And the politics of the District of Columbia are complicated by a mix of city and state functions and a unique federal role.

That environment can make it hard to sustain research partnerships with schools, said Gina Burkhardt, the executive vice president and education director of the AIR, one of the EdCORE partners.

“In D.C., every time leadership changes, you have to renegotiate how these networks happen, [how] relationships happen, and how resources are put into place,” said Ms. Burkhardt, who is also a trustee of Editorial Projects in Education, the publisher of Education Week.

For example, as the consortium noted in its first report to the city auditor, both the school district and Washington’s charter schools projected rising enrollment and financial needs in fiscal 2011, but education spending ultimately was cut during a “particularly strained” budget process “fueled in part by a primary election in which the D.C. council chairman was challenging the mayor, public disagreements over budget numbers, ... and negotiations over a new teacher contract.”

Several urban research consortia emerged in response to similar policy overhauls elsewhere.

San Diego’s consortium was created in part to study the effects of the district’s short-lived “Blueprint for Student Success” initiative, which included block scheduling and extended days.

The Consortium on Chicago School Research, considered a gold-standard model for research partnerships, began as an effort to study new school governing zones created by a decentralization plan.

“Instead of doing lots of isolated studies, … one study can inform the other studies,” said Elaine Allensworth, the executive director of the Chicago consortium.

“So if I’m doing research on leadership, that’s going to be informed by research that’s going on about curriculum and research on teacher professional development in the same schools. … That makes the research more useful,” Ms. Allensworth said, and could help get disparate education officials and community leaders involved.

Moving Forward

Ms. Harding, a former research director for Teach For America, said she is used to conducting research in highly charged political environments, and said doing so depends on building trust.

“I think you need to have a fair amount of transparency,” she said. “You need to have all your cards on the table going into a project.”

For example, EdCORE is now evaluating how Washington brought special education students back from private to district schools, following court criticism of how special education students historically have been evaluated and served.

Thomas B. Parrish, the deputy director of AIR’s education and human-development program, who is working with the consortium on the special education project, said researchers have been meeting regularly with district staff members to decide what special education topics would be the most helpful for the district to study.

“We had already gone in and pointed out 200 pages of problems with special education financing, and we didn’t want to do that again,” Mr. Parrish said. “We didn’t want this to be a ‘gotcha.’”

A report issued last spring by the New York City-based William T. Grant Foundation called for more researchers and districts to set up ongoing relationships focused on original analyses and problems of practice that are useful to the district, the community, and researchers.

“Consortia can help districts build a kind of capacity that the district is very unlikely to build on its own,” said John Q. Easton, the director of the Institute of Education Sciences, the federal education research agency, and the former head of the Chicago consortium. “It becomes a much broader civic conversation about the district and its problems and the solution to those problems.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 25, 2013 edition of Education Week as New Research Consortium Targets D.C. Schools

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.
School & District Management Webinar Fostering Student Well-Being with Programs That Work
Protecting student well-being has never been more important. Join this webinar to learn how to ensure your programs yield the best outcomes.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion Pandemic Isolation Damaged School Culture. Here’s How Principals Can Reset
I made it my mission to help my staff reconnect and recommit.
Darin A. Thompson
4 min read
conceptual image of teacher remembering why they became a teacher
Vanessa Solis/Education week via Canva
School & District Management What People Don't Get About Being a Principal: Reflections From 3 Leaders
As school leaders mark National Principals Month, three principals discuss why they do what they do.
10 min read
Principals who are part of the online group known as Moms As Principals met face-to-face for the first time last month during a national conference in Philadelaphia.
Principals who are part of the online group known as Moms As Principals met face-to-face for the first time during a national conference in Philadelphia.
Denisa R. Superville/Education Week
School & District Management Spotlight Spotlight on K-12 Decision-Making
This Spotlight will help you learn how teachers can help drive systemic change, evaluate school progress on driving equity, and more.
School & District Management Will Schools Reopen Quickly After Hurricane Ian Passes? It Depends
Even before district leaders started shelter operations, they were getting asked when kids could return.
Jeffrey S. Solochek, Tampa Bay Times
3 min read
Beulah Stand, a sixth grade math teacher at John Hopkins, carries her pillow and a suitcase into the Pinellas County special needs shelter at John Hopkins Middle School, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022 in St. Petersburg, Fla., as Florida's west coast prepares for Hurricane Ian. Stand will be staying at the center to work during the storm. The evacuation center, which is only for people with special needs, has a capacity of over 700 people.
Beulah Stand, a 6th grade math teacher at John Hopkins, carries her pillow and a suitcase into the Pinellas County special needs shelter at John Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg, Fla., as Florida's west coast prepares for Hurricane Ian. Stand will be staying at the center to work during the storm. The evacuation center, which is only for people with special needs, has a capacity of over 700 people.
Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times via AP